If you're considering crossing the border between San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico then check out this helpful guide with everything you need to know about the San Ysidro border.
San Diego is home to California’s southernmost city, Imperial Beach, and shares a border with the popular Tijuana, Mexico. So, how does one get from one city to the next? They’re right next door… but there is still an international border in the way.
The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry is by far the busiest land crossing point between the United States and Mexico. The most easily accessible border crossing between the hubs of Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, can be crossed by foot or via the connected El Chaparral vehicle crossing point, providing access for long and short-term travelers.
This border crossing location is easy to navigate, though it can be overwhelming if you’ve never crossed into a different country by land before. This port of entry will offer a different experience than those of an airport or cruise terminal, and we are here to give you some insight.
About the San Ysidro Border
The San Ysidro zone of entry is the Tijuana border crossing location that is most used to get to Baja California.
When it comes down to it, this port of entry, San Ysidro combined with El Chaparral, is considered the busiest of the international crossings in the world, based on individual and vehicular crossing from one country to the next.
The San Ysidro border sees over 106 million individual crossings each year, while a whopping 48 million cars and trucks also annually pass through the El Chaparral section of San Ysidro.
Established in 1970, the entry zone has grown to see over 90,000 daily commuters crossing between these two nearby cities. In the same way that one might take a day trip to a nearby suburb or work in the next town over, locals of the region use the San Ysidro crossing frequently for various reasons.
Using the San Ysidro Port of Entry
It’s quite easy to cross between Mexico and the United States via the Tijuana border crossing at San Ysidro's land border inspection station. You'll speak to border protection officials after waiting in line to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, but more often than not conversations are quick.
Anyone coming into Tijuana to visit from California will need to fill out an FMM, or a Visitor’s Permit, which is free if the trip is less than 7 days long. Much like you get forms to fill out when entering the country on an airplane, this is a quick and simple form declaring your entry. You’ll do this for days trips and longer stays alike, whether you pass through on foot or in a car.
Getting to the San Ysidro Border from San Diego
How does one get to the border’s port of entry, you may ask. If you intend to drive down to Tijuana from San Diego, simply take the I-5 highway going south and follow signs for the International Border. Pretty simple stuff, huh?
If you want to walk across the border to avoid parking, driving, or any other part of dealing with your car, utilize San Diego’s trolley system instead. You can take the Blue Line running south until you end at the last stop: San Ysidro, which makes the directions very easy to follow. Then, wait in line either on the highway or queue up behind other pedestrians on the walkway into Mexico. The San Ysidro Port of Entry is not the only way to get between Tijuana and San Diego, though. Two other options may offer more ease and/or speed, depending on where you’re coming from, how you are traveling, and other factors.
The 3 San Diego Border Crossing Locations
Let’s go over the 3 different San Diego ports of entry that connect the U.S. to Mexico. Each has benefits and uses that make it unique.
1. San Ysidro Land Port of Entry
This is the biggest, most accessible port of entry, and is the one that most visitors will use if they opt to visit Tijuana for a day. If you don’t have a car, the trolley system makes this by far the best option for quick access to the border.
The busiest of entry points, the wait time may be longer, but it is more ‘on the way’ as you travel between both cities and their downtown spaces.
2. Otay Mesa Border Crossing
Otay Mesa border crossing, on the other hand, is much faster to cross. Its located east of the San Ysidro ports, which makes it less convenient for anyone looking to pass between central San Diego and Tijuana regions.
Entering Mexico from the United States side of the border is done via the I-5 or I-805. Though it's faster to cross, it is much more difficult to access from the Tijuana side.
3. CBX (Tijuana Airport) Border Crossing
The CBX, Cross Border Xpress, is the 3rd crossing point between San Diego and Tijuana, and services only travelers that hold boarding passes through the Tijuana International Airport, along with their identification.
Designed as a pedestrian bridge, most often utilized for southbound pedestrian crossing, the border wait times are lower here as fewer travelers enter Baja California through the airport's 2 connected terminal areas. This is the fastest of all the options and is the most convenient by far if you are using Tijuana airport’s services.
The San Ysidro border may take longer, but it’s because the port of entry is by far the most popular of the 3 crossings between San Diego and Tijuana. Expect to wait longer on Sundays and holidays at this border location but know that you’ll be saving time and money on transportation more often than not. Do you frequent Tijuana for day trips or travel? Let us know if there is anything you would share!